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    April 1, 1945 Remembered – Battle for Okinawa A Lasting Memory

    What began as the largest amphibious operation during WWII in terms of troops, tonnage and firepower on April 1, 1945, ended as the bloodiest struggle in the Pacific campaign.

    The Battle of Okinawa lasted 82 harrowing days and is considered one of the most merciless of the war with American casualties reaching a staggering 49,151, of which 12,520 were killed or missing.

    New York Times front page coverage on June 21, 1945, claimed the battle the “costliest fighting of the Pacific.”

    The compiled casualty totals are a somber reflection of that banner headline. The Marines suffered 2,938 killed in action/missing and 13,708 wounded, the Army lost 4,675 killed and 18,059 injured and the Navy had 4,907 killed and 4,824 wounded.

    The Imperial Japanese Thirty-Second Army was decimated, with between 100,000 and 115,000 losing their lives.

    Between the two fierce antagonists, the entire island became a battlefield. There was no safe refuge, no-man's land, or sanctuary.

    “According to most of the Okinawan folks I know, there were three sides to the Battle of Okinawa: The U.S. military, the forces of Imperial Japan, and the Okinawan people caught in the crossfire. The prevailing themes among all sides in terms of remembrance are courage, sacrifice, and profound loss,” said Brian Davis, Naval Supply Systems Command Fleet Logistics Center Puget Sound public affairs officer, who on active duty was assigned to several commands on Okinawa as a hospital corpsman and upon retirement after 20 years worked at U.S. Naval Hospital Okinawa as civil service and public affairs officer.

    Davis noted that even 79 years after that fateful struggle, there are many hallowed commemorations on the island.

    “Memories are everywhere. There are a number of Marine Corps camps – Kinser, Foster, Courtney, Hansen, Gonsalves—that were named for Marines in memory of their sacrifice and heroism during the battle,” explained Davis. “Camp Lester, the site of the original U.S. Naval Hospital, was named for Fred Faulkner Lester, a corpsman assigned to a rifle platoon who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions during the battle.”

    The objective was to secure the island, thus removing the last barrier standing between U.S. forces and Imperial Japan. The premise was straightforward. Securing the island, only 400 miles from Japan, would establish a looming forward base for the pending assault to invade the Japanese mainland.

    Similar to the recent horrific struggle for Iwo Jima, the limestone and coral features on Okinawa were festooned with deeply dug in caves, tunnels and hidden gun emplacements. Massive naval and air bombardment across the entire landscape didn’t dent the fortified bunkers – and deeply dug in - defenders as hoped. For their part, the Imperial Japanese Army allowed the Americans to land relatively unopposed, waiting until they entered carefully created killing zones.

    Davis attests those months of bombing – followed by fierce combat - reduced the island’s cities, farms, and villages to smoking rubble.

    “It is rare to find any homes or buildings that predate the war in areas where the fighting occurred,” Davis remarked.

    Although figures vary, it is estimated that between 110,000 and 150,000 Okinawan civilians - many conscripted as defenders with others designated for manual labor or providing food to the Imperial Japanese troops - were also killed.

    “The Okinawans have built a number of memorials to their war dead. Every single one is a moving, somber experience. Their stories, photos, and memorabilia are the most haunting,” David said, adding that long after the warfare, that nightmarish still endures.

    “It continues to resonate through the fabric of the island and its people nearly eighty years after the guns went silent. You can still see the effects in daily life, manifesting in both physical and intangible ways. There are neighborhoods where you can still walk past concrete walls pock marked by machine gun bullets. The battle and its aftermath are even reflected in such mundane places as the local cuisine. After the battle, U.S. troops introduced things like C-rations, peanut butter, and canned meat to a starving population, who then learned ways to incorporate these strange foodstuffs into their traditional recipes. Versions of Okinawan sato andagi donuts and chinsuko shortbread cookies incorporating peanut butter are commonplace today,” related Davis.

    Davis related a chance meeting he had with an elderly resident on Kouri island – off Okinawa’s northwest coast - who told him about his experiences as a young man during the battle.

    According to the old man, Japanese soldiers arrived in his village early one morning and rounded up all the farmers and fishermen. They drove off to a nearby beach, disembarked, and handed each man a bamboo pole with a knife lashed on the end of it. With the invasion force offshore and stretching to the horizon, the senior Imperial Japanese soldier ordered the men to hide and wait for the U.S. troops to land. When the Americans came ashore the men were supposed to jump out and try to stick their makeshift spear into at least one enemy soldier before getting shot. Then the soldiers drove off, leaving this group of farmers and fisherman on the beach. Once the soldiers were out of sight, the men looked at each other, shrugged, tossed away their weapons, and walked home to their families.

    Yet such a quirk of fate was not common at that time nor that place. The fighting was brutal. At times hand-to-hand. Mortar and machinegun gave way to bayonet and sword. The bloody struggle swayed back and forth.

    In the midst of that fray were 24 service members who received the Medal of Honor. Thirteen went to Navy corpsmen with their Marines, nine to soldiers, and one to a Navy officer. Along with Lester, previously mentioned, another notable recipient was Hospital Apprentice 1st Class Robert E. Bush, presented the Medal of Honor “for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his own life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as medical corpsman with a rifle company in action against enemy Japanese on Okinawa Jima, Ryukyu Islands on 2 May 1945.

    Fearlessly braving the fury of artillery, mortar, and machine-gun fire from strongly entrenched hostile positions, Bush constantly and unhesitatingly moved from one casualty to another to attend the wounded falling under the enemy’s murderous barrages.

    As the attack passed over a ridge top, he was advancing to administer blood plasma to a Marine officer lying wounded on the skyline when the Japanese launched a savage counterattack. In this perilously exposed position, he resolutely maintained the flow of lifegiving plasma.

    With the bottle held high in one hand, he drew his pistol with the other hand and fired into the enemy’s ranks until his ammunition was expended. Quickly seizing a discarded carbine, he trained his fire on the Japanese charging pointblank over the hill, accounting for six of the enemy despite his own serious wounds and the loss of one eye suffered during his desperate battle in defense of the helpless man.

    With the hostile force finally routed, he calmly disregarded his own critical condition to complete his mission, valiantly refusing medical treatment for himself until his officer patient had been evacuated and collapsing only after attempting to walk to the battle aid station.”

    Bush was all of 18-years old at that time and was the youngest corpsman – born in Tacoma, Washington - to receive the nation’s highest military decoration. He passed away November 8, 2005.

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    Date Taken: 04.01.2024
    Date Posted: 04.01.2024 18:13
    Story ID: 467525
    Location: BREMERTON , WASHINGTON, US

    Web Views: 128
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